The Irish in America


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Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade Welcomes Two Girls From Milltown

I wanted to take the opportunity to share my Thanksgiving post from last year with you again. This was the first time I introduced Maureen Teahan Murray (of Meet Maureen and Maureen’s Memories fame). Maureen’s daughter  Mary had emailed me a day or so before Thanksgiving and shared the story of Maureen’s arrival in America just in time for the iconic Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade. Enjoy and have a happy Thanksgiving!

Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade debuted in 1924. Macy’s began the parade in order to promote their department store for the Christmas season. Most of the participants in the parade were Macy’s employees who donned costumes, marched, and rode on floats pulled by horses, tracing the route from Harlem to Macy’s Herald Square store. Over 250.000 people watched the parade that first year and it became an annual event.

1940 Hippo balloon at Macy’s parade (photo from theweek.com)

The famous helium-filled balloons of animals first appeared in 1927, replacing the real animals that were sprung from the Central Park Zoo to march in the parade. By 1942, the rubber and helium from the balloons became necessary for the war effort and the parade was called off until 1945.

The November 28, 1947 s New York Times article describes the parade in great detail. The parade had clearly hit its pre-World War II stride with crowds, bands, floats, and the return of the giant balloons. The headline reads:

2,000,000 THRILLED BY MACY’S PARADE

Gas-Filled Giants Prance Again to Delight of Throngs Who Forget Cold

CLOWNS ADD TO THE FUN

Three Little Pigs, Peter Rabbit in the Line — Santa Bestows a Greeting.

What a line-up! The two million spectators lined the sidewalks of the parade route and “peered from open windows, crowded roof-tops, and marquees” to catch a glimpse of Humpty-Dumpty, the Pumpkin Float, and a gigantic panda balloon. Five-year-old Katharine had this to say about the parade: “I like the Jack O’ Lantern, I like the Funny Cop, I like loud music, I like the dancers, I like everything.”

Among the two million people gathered that Thanksgiving morning in 1947 were Maureen and Joan Teahan. Maureen and Joan were sisters who had just arrived in New York the previous day, November 26th. The sisters left their home in Milltown, County Kerry about a week earlier to begin new lives in the United States. Milltown’s population? About 100 people.

The girls experienced just a bit of culture shock upon arrival in New York City. Their Uncle Dan sponsored the sisters’ passage to the United States and made a point of telling them to lock the hotel room door. Maureen recalls that this was something she and Joan had not even considered.

So, what did Maureen think of the two million people plus a rocket ship from Mars full of blue invaders who were “mocked” by Peter Rabbit and the Mad Hatter while the Three Little Pigs “sang the praises of Thanksgiving” and the steady pounding of drums filled the air? Maureen admits she was overwhelmed.

What an introduction to the United States for Maureen and Joan. They walked right into one of the most cherished Thanksgiving traditions for families all over the United States – the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade, on a day that is uniquely American. That is a lot to process within the first forty-eight hours in a country.

Maureen and Joan stayed in New York for a week – shopping and seeing the sights – before settling in Lawrence, Massachusetts.

In a couple of weeks, I will publish a lovely story written by Maureen. It’s a Christmas story. But for now, a Happy Thanksgiving to all and enjoy the parade!

Special thanks to Mary Power for sharing the New York Times article, as well as her mother Maureen’s memories of the 1947 Macy’s Thanksgiving parade.

Click on the following links to learn more about Maureen and read her delightful stories:


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Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade Welcomes Two Girls From Milltown

Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade debuted in 1924. Macy’s began the parade in order to promote their department store for the Christmas season. Most of the participants in the parade were Macy’s employees who donned costumes, marched, and rode on floats pulled by horses, tracing the route from Harlem to Macy’s Herald Square store. Over 250.000 people watched the parade that first year and it became an annual event.

1940 Hippo balloon at Macy’s parade (photo from theweek.com)

The famous helium-filled balloons of animals first appeared in 1927, replacing the real animals that were sprung from the Central Park Zoo to march in the parade. By 1942, the rubber and helium from the balloons became necessary for the war effort and the parade was called off until 1945.

The November 28, 1947 s New York Times article describes the parade in great detail. The parade had clearly hit its pre-World War II stride with crowds, bands, floats, and the return of the giant balloons. The headline reads:

2,000,000 THRILLED BY MACY’S PARADE

Gas-Filled Giants Prance Again to Delight of Throngs Who Forget Cold

CLOWNS ADD TO THE FUN

Three Little Pigs, Peter Rabbit in the Line — Santa Bestows a Greeting.

What a line-up! The two million spectators lined the sidewalks of the parade route and “peered from open windows, crowded roof-tops, and marquees” to catch a glimpse of Humpty-Dumpty, the Pumpkin Float, and a gigantic panda balloon. Five-year-old Katharine had this to say about the parade: “I like the Jack O’ Lantern, I like the Funny Cop, I like loud music, I like the dancers, I like everything.”

Among the two million people gathered that Thanksgiving morning in 1947 were Maureen and Joan Teahan. Maureen and Joan were sisters who had just arrived in New York the previous day, November 26th. The sisters left their home in Milltown, County Kerry about a week earlier to begin new lives in the United States. Milltown’s population? About 100 people.

The girls experienced just a bit of culture shock upon arrival in New York City. Their Uncle Dan sponsored the sisters’ passage to the United States and made a point of telling them to lock the hotel room door. Maureen recalls that this was something she and Joan had not even considered.

So, what did Maureen think of the two million people plus a rocket ship from Mars full of blue invaders who were “mocked” by Peter Rabbit and the Mad Hatter while the Three Little Pigs “sang the praises of Thanksgiving” and the steady pounding of drums filled the air? Maureen admits she was overwhelmed.

What an introduction to the United States for Maureen and Joan. They walked right into one of the most cherished Thanksgiving traditions for families all over the United States – the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade, on a day that is uniquely American. That is a lot to process within the first forty-eight hours in a country.

Maureen and Joan stayed in New York for a week – shopping and seeing the sights – before settling in Lawrence, Massachusetts.

In a couple of weeks, I will publish a lovely story written by Maureen. It’s a Christmas story. But for now, a Happy Thanksgiving to all and enjoy the parade!

Special thanks to Mary Power for sharing the New York Times article, as well as her mother Maureen’s memories of the 1947 Macy’s Thanksgiving parade.


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Exile and Savior: Fiddler Michael Coleman

How could Michael Coleman help but become a great musician? His childhood home in Knockgrania, County Sligo was often referred to as “Jamsey Coleman’s Music Hall” because his father James, a respected flute player, welcomed musicians from near and far into the home on a regular basis. This area of Sligo was (and still is) known for its traditional music – the Coleman’s neighbors included the likes of fiddle players Mattie Kiloran, John O’Dowd, and P.J. McDermott, each of whom would influence Michael Coleman’s playing.

Michael was born in 1891, the youngest child of James and Beatrice  Coleman. Michael was a twin, but his older brother died at birth. It is accepted that Michael learned to play fiddle at an early age, but who was his teacher? Some say his father taught him to play,while the local story is that on the way home from a house dance one night Michael came upon an ancient ring fort and fell asleep. When he awoke he could play – naturally it was the faeries that taught him!

Father or faerie, they did a good job teaching young Michael. He developed into a fine fiddle player. Michael also became an accomplished step dancer. After trying his hand at several jobs and a brief stint in Manchester, England, Michael knew he had to leave Sligo. There was no chance to earn a living playing the fiddle in Sligo, but in America…

In 1914, Michael arrived in America. He stayed with an aunt in Lowell, Massachusetts briefly before traveling across the United States as part of the Keith Circuit, the largest and most successful vaudeville operation of the time. In 1917, Michael settled in New York City, married, and started his own orchestra.

At this time, there was a growing interest in “real” ethnic music in New York. Previously, the Irish music distributed by the record companies had been recorded by “imitation Irish” musicians. A record shop owner in New York City named Ellen O’Byrne was certain that if talented, real Irish musicians recorded Irish music, those recordings would fly off the shelves. She encouraged Michael to make recordings of his music.

In 1921 Michael’s first recording was released on the Shannon label. Over eighty  recordings would follow before Michael’s death in 1945. Ellen O’Byrne was not surprised by the popularity of the recordings in the United States. What no one expected was for the recordings to become popular in Ireland. Shortly after the first recording was issued in 1921, Irish Americans shared them with family and friends, sending the 78 rpm records back home in Ireland.

American record companies caught up to this trend and began marketing the recordings directly to Ireland, which only cemented Michael’s popularity and influence. In 1974, on the road from Tubbercurry to Gurteen in his home county of Sligo, a memorial to Michael Coleman was erected by the Coleman Traditional Society:

To the memory of Michael Coleman, master of the fiddle, saviour of Irish traditional music. Born near this spot in 1891. Died in exile 1945. To the traditional musicians of an older generation who, in this area, inspired his genius – To those of a later generation who, after his passing, fostered and preserved the tradition for posterity.

That says it all. If you find yourself in South Sligo, be sure to visit the Coleman Irish Music Centre in Gurteen (exhibit, gift shop, replica of the Coleman Cottage – “Jamesy Coleman’s Music Hall”, music archive, theater and more!) And if you’re lucky, you will hear the sweet sounds of the Sligo-style fiddle wafting from the local pubs.

Thanks to J. Michael Finn for his article on Michael Coleman – especially for the story of the faeries!


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At Least He Made It

Major League Baseball has never been a stranger to foreign-born players. Throughout the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the names of Italian, Jewish, and Irish immigrants peppered the rosters of big league teams. Today you will find Venezuelan, Dominican, and even a few Japanese names on these rosters.

A few months ago I came across the story of Joe Cleary, the last Irish-born baseball player to appear in a Major League game. On August 4, 1945, Cleary was sent out to pitch the fourth inning against the Boston Red Sox. Cleary had been called up by the Washington Senators in preparation for a long string of double-headers, where pitching would be needed.

That day Joe Cleary made baseball history. Not because he was the last Irish-born player to make it to the big leagues, and not even because he was replaced in the game by the first (and only) major league pitcher to have just one leg (the other was amputated in World War II.) No, Joe Cleary is in the record books for allowing seven earned runs in one-third inning of work, resulting in a whopping 189.00 ERA (earned run average).

This inauspicious debut would be Cleary’s closing night as well. Years later, Cleary said he was used to the teasing about the 189.00 ERA from people in the neighborhood, “But I would tell them, I was there.”

Joseph Christopher Cleary was born on December 3, 1918 in County Cork, Ireland. His family came to the States in 1928, settling on the West Side of New York City. Cleary played baseball at New York’s High School of Commerce – the same high school attended by Lou Gehrig about fifteen years earlier.

After high school, Cleary turned down college scholarships to play semi-pro baseball. He needed to work and help support his family. What better way to do that than by playing baseball? There is a great biography of Joe “Fire” Cleary here by Charlie Bevis. It explores Cleary’s career in baseball leading up to that fateful August day in 1945 and beyond. Bevis details the drama that took place during the one-third inning of baseball and tells us why the seven runs may not have been the only reason Cleary never made it back to the Majors.

Cleary retired from baseball in 1950 to spend time with his wife Mary and family. Bevis sums up Cleary’s story very nicely:

Cleary worked on Wall Street for a few years before he purchased a bar on the West Side of New York City, which he operated for more than 20 years. Cleary sold the bar and worked as a bartender before retiring at age 62 in 1982. In retirement in his neighborhood dominated by baseball-loving Dominican immigrants, “[Cleary] is a minor celebrity, who is still ribbed about his baseball career and his bloated earned run average. But he can handle it,” Margolick wrote. “‘The only answer I give them is, ‘Hey I was there. Only 14,000 guys have made it.'”

This paragraph says a lot about baseball and America…maybe the more recent immigrants from the Dominican Republic looked to an old immigrant from Ireland and thought they could make it, too.

Or maybe they just love baseball…

Joe Cleary passed away June 3, 2004 in Yonkers, New York.

Better go so I don’t miss the first pitch of the Minnesota Twins season. I think this is their year.

Thanks to Charlie Bevis and his biography of Joe Cleary from the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR) website – read it here. Not only does Bevis provide us with the details of Cleary’s baseball career, he gives us a glimpse into why Cleary’s nickname was “Fire”.

Photo from www.baseball-reference.com